The most shocking thing about the gay marriage debate recently has been the right all but admitting that, well, they never really had a good reason for opposing marriage equality after all. On his show last week, Bill O’Reilly, the man who best encapsulates the image rank and file conservatives have of themselves, practically conceded that liberals were right and conservatives were wrong — that while liberals had advocated for marriage equality in the language of civil rights, all conservatives responded with was ‘Bible thumping.’ In the words of Papa Bear, “You don’t win a policy debate that way.”
Few at this point would disagree with O’Reilly; the right has already lost the marriage debate. The majority of Americans are in favor of equality, Republican politicians are defecting en masse, and the Supreme Court is largely expected to strike down DOMA and Prop 8 in California. What many forget amid all this glory is that gay marriage has been a foregone conclusion for years now. The year 2010 was the first year that national polls began to show a majority of Americans supporting gay marriage, a majority that has only grown over time. However, the same trend was observable before 2010. Support for gay marriage has increased significantly every year since 2005, when it polled nationally at 28%, but the idea has been steadily gaining traction since the culture wars of the mid-1990s.
At this point, Bill O’Reilly and the conservative right are merely conducting a post-mortem of their failed fight against gay marriage. According to O'Reilly, they lost because the left has always had a better argument, which does not necessarily mean that the GOP is wrong, merely that it has been unable to find a convincing enough way to defend traditional marriage.
Other conservatives are responding with a mixture of silence and hurt feelings. In a public spat on The O'Reilly Factor, Laura Ingraham recently confronted him for “not helping” the conservative agenda. She argued that gay marriage happened too fast, that conservatives did not have enough time to prepare a better argument against it than just talking about their faith.
Sean Hannity has resorted to ad hominem attacks, alleging that the president only came out in favor of marriage equality to win the election, but rarely attacking gay marriage in its own right.
You don’t hear very many conservatives attacking gay marriage these days. All along the past few years, we have heard the conservative right attack gay marriage using everything from the slippery slope argument (once gay Americans can marry, what’s to stop us from legalizing polygamy and bestiality) to the child rights argument. They held water for a brief second, such as when Prop 8 was passed in California, but as the years passed and nothing came up to substantiate these claims, they became less and less used and less and less convincing. In general, conservatives still complain about liberal attempts to ‘radically’ change society, and even Papa Bear will complain when gay rights activists call those who disagree with them ‘bigots.’
At this point, however, everything that the right has to say about gay marriage is beside — not on— the point. As the GOP continues to defect and the conservative stance on gay marriage sounds silly to itself, we see more than ever before that the right never had an argument, that, even in their own minds, they never articulated a clear reason for opposing marriage equality. Far from making the left smug, this has to make them wonder, “How did this take so long?”